Stay in the Basque Country: Euskadi
A land of proud and independent men, sailors and mountaineers, the Basque Country, known as Vasconia in the Middle Ages, has had a turbulent history which, in spite of everything, has allowed it to keep its language with its mysterious origins and culture.
The Basques speak Euskara, the Basque language. Euzkal Herria refers to the Basque Country in a geographical and cultural sense, while the term Euzkadi contains a political notion of homeland. It is the latter which is nowadays used to designate the Basque Country composed of three provinces: Álava, Bizcaye and Guipuzkoa.
The Basque coast, the Costa Vasca, is divided between Vizcaya and Guipuzkoa. The landscapes are naturally steep, pierced by numerous rias like that of Urdaibai classified as a biosphere reserve.
Beaches follow impressive cliffs, those of flysh in Gipuzkoa, recounting 50 million years of history in their fossilized remains, are particularly famous.
Sometimes surrounded by dunes, the fishing villages recall the maritime traditions of the Basques. On long beaches, swimming, surfing and other water sports are widely practiced. La Concha beach in San Sebastian is considered to be the most beautiful urban beach in Spain.
From the Pyrenees to the Cantabrian Cordillera, from wooded mountains and hills to meadows, you will discover a hinterland with varied fauna.
Split between the provinces of Bizkaia and Alava, with a surface area of 20,000 ha, the Gorbeia Nature Park is the largest protected park in the Basque Country.
The traditional pintxos, tapas, the jewels of a rich Basque gastronomy in which seafood and local products, drizzled with local cider or txakoli, have their place, can’t escape in the often commercial and pedestrian lanes of the old historic centres of Basque cities.
Nestled at the mouth of the River Urumea, at the bottom of the bay of La Concha, flanked by the headlands of the Igeldo and Urgull Mountains, with its beautiful beaches, San Sebastian has long been the main tourist destination in the Basque Country.
The old district’ Erdialdea’ also called’ Centro’, with its narrow streets lined with tapas bars and trendy shops, is certainly the most attractive part of the old historical centre of the city.
25 km east of San Sebastian.
Irún, a border town and shopping town for the French, Irún, an ancient Roman port city, is nevertheless an attractive city. The city centre from where the “Topo”, the Euskotren which connects Irún to Hendaye and San Sebastian, starts is very lively.
This effervescence is concentrated mainly from the end of the afternoon along Colón Avenue and adjacent streets rich in tapas bars.
30 km east of San Sebastian.
Formerly a fortified maritime town situated at the mouth of the Bidassoa river, Fontarabia is classified as an artistic and historical monument. The city is endowed with many seigneurial buildings. The winding and picturesque alleys of the old quarter are dominated by Charles V’s castle, converted into a Parador.
The Flysch Route
Dating back some fifty million years, these extraordinary bluish cliffs follow one another on the Basque coast from Zumaia to Mutriku. Numerous water sports are available in the creeks and beaches dotting this coastline with its varied ecosystem.
400 km north of Madrid.
The capital of Vizcaya, Bilbao is a major economic and social centre of the Basque province.
The nerve centre of the old Basque city is situated in the vicinity of the Rio Nervión and the Casco Viejo district. The historic centre of Bilbao is characterized by its pedestrian streets lined with traditional Basque houses and a shopping area with attractive shop windows.
On the opposite bank of the Nervion, the San Francisco district, the city’s cultural and artistic centre, offers an alternative culture with its bookshops, bohemian cafés and pintxos bars.
35 km northeast of Bilbao.
Founded in the 13th century, Bermeo has an important fishing port. Its coastline is made up of cliffs and rocky islets such as San Juan Gaztelelugatxe, linked to the mainland by a very old stone bridge. Some of the monuments in the old town are classified as historic-artistic. Bermeo is located not far from the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve.
35 km east of Bilbao.
A Basque symbol of freedom and peace, Guernica, whose bombardment was immortalized by Picasso and numerous films, offers many sites of tourist interest. The city is also an ideal base for visiting the Basque hinterland.
Kortezubi, caves of Santimamiñe
45 km east of Bilbao
Discovered by curious young boys in 1916 on the slopes of the Ereñozar mountain, the Santimamiñe caves present rock paintings from the Upper Palaeolithic period.
Ibarrangelu. Beach of Laga
45 km northeast of Bilbao.
With its 575 meters of golden sand at the gates of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, Laga Beach is also one of the most famous surf spots on the Biscayan coast. Windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking and hang-gliding from the rock of Ogoño (279 m) are also practiced.
Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve
50 km northeast of Blbao.
Concentrated around the Urdaibai estuary, the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve has been declared Ecological Interest by UNESCO for its great diversity of landscapes, animal and plant species.
Don’t miss the beach of Laida and the spectacular Laga Beach, dominated by the imposing rock of Ogoño. Located in the reserve, the interpretation centre of Urdaibai Bird Center is dedicated to ornithology, bird migrations and their habitats.
360 km north of Madrid.
The seat of the Basque government, the capital of Álava, founded in the 12th century, preserves a medieval centre dotted with picturesque places and ancient ramparts. The old town is made up of narrow lanes that have kept the names of the craftsmen’s associations that once had their workshops and stalls there.
The city centre, which concentrates most of the city’s pubs and discotheques, is the meeting point for nightlife.
45 km south of Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Laguardia is the capital of the Alava Rioja and is a small town of 2000 inhabitants located in the extreme south of Álava. With its ramparts built in the 13th century, the old town of Laguardia is classified as a National Historic Monument. Laguardia’s cultural heritage is also enriched by numerous archaeological remains dating from the Palaeolithic, Roman and medieval periods.
45 km southwest of Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Known for its” chuleta al sarmiento”, ribs of beef grilled on shoots, Labastida boasts a Baroque historical centre with old seigniorial houses.
Gorbeia Natural Park
25 km northwest of Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Gorbeia Park has become a major destination for lovers of nature sports and preserved environment, with extraordinary landscapes and peaks suitable for climbing. The 20,000 hectares of the park are divided between southern Bizkaia and northern Álava. At the limit of the two provinces, Mount Gorbeia rises to 1480 m above sea level.
390 km northeast of Madrid.
Famous for its feria de la San Firmin and Encierros, the release of bulls, Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, is first and foremost an important stop on the Way to Compostela. The festivities of San Firmin, of which Ernest Hemingway was an unconditional devotee, take place in July.
95 km south of Pamplona.
A city with a historical past, Tudela was one of the 23 cities founded in the 9th century in Spain by Arabs on a bank of the River Ebro. The old quarters of Juderia Vetula and Nueva still bear witness to the presence of an imposing Jewish community since the city was founded.
Bardenas Reales Natural Park
85 km south of Pamplona.
Located in the extreme south of Navarre, the Bardenas Reales Natural Park is classified as a Biosphere Reserve. Among the various zones that make up the park, the Vedado de Egueras is an oasis reminding us that long ago, the vegetation that covered the places and the fauna that lived there reminded us of the African continent.
Urbasa y Andía Natural Park
30 km west of Pamplona.
The majority of the streams and rivers of Navarre originate in this impressive massif formed by the sierras of Urbasa y Andía. Famous in the park, the spring of Estella-Lizarra rises from a 700-metre high cliff and turns into a 100-metre-high waterfall, which then flows into cascades and natural basins with turquoise waters.
Basque cuisine, a seasonal cuisine for mountain and maritime flavours.
Benefiting from an exceptional climate, small farms in the hills of the hinterland have a wide range of local products (cheese, meat, fruit, vegetables, cereals, wines) which, when added to seafood, provide the ingredients necessary for quality cuisine.
The ocean, in which Basque sailors like to exercise their talent as fishermen, provides fish and shellfish. Cod, tuna, anchovies or sea bream, crabs and mussels are the marine pillars of this Basque gastronomy.
Pintxos, tapas, are certainly the best known element of it.
Very varied, pintxos are real miniature dishes on a slice of bread, they can be garnished with fish, shellfish, mushrooms, fish, cold meats, meat… pan-fried, grilled, cooked in sauce.
Tasting them is a true art of living. Served individually at the bar counter, they are accompanied by a glass of txakoli (basque white wine), zuito (beer under pressure) or cider.
Lamb and pigs are the most widely consumed meats. Lamb is usually served with piperade. The acorn-fed pig-pie is reared in semi-liberty in the hills of the Basque Country.
Codfish, fish emblematic of San Sebastian, tuna, anchovies, or sea bream, crabs and mussels without forgetting squid, chipiron, are the marine pillars of this Basque gastronomy.
San Sebastian specialities:
These almost all come from the ocean: baked spider crabs, kokotxas, kokotxas, koxhera or donostiarra, marinated clams, squid, roasted sea bream…
Txacoli: dry, young and fruity white wine with moderate alcohol content, between 9.5 ° and 11.5 °. Produced in Guipuzcoa since the 16th century, it is pale yellow in colour and slightly acidic, it is enjoyed chilled with fish and seafood.
Cider: sagarno, a traditional drink, is mainly produced in the north-east of Guipuzcoa. With a degree of alcohol always higher than 5 °, a pronounced acidity and a very light sparkling, it is different from its Breton or Norman cousin. Accompanying the pintxos well, it can also be eaten throughout a meal with charcuterie, red meat or fish dishes.